Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of North American Indians
by George Catlin
(First published in London in 1844)
FORT LEAVENWORTH, LOWER MISSOURI.
The readers, I presume, will have felt some anxiety for me and the fate of my little craft, after the close of my last Letter; and I have the very great satisfaction of announcing to them that we escaped snags and sawers, and every other danger, and arrived here safe from the Upper Missouri, where my last letters were dated. We, (that is, Ba'tiste, Bogard and I,) are comfortably quartered for awhile, in the barracks of this hospitable Cantonment, which is now the extreme Western military post on the frontier, and under the command of Colonel Davenport, a gentleman of great urbanity of manners, with a Roman head and a Grecian heart, restrained and tempered by the charms of an American lady, who has elegantly pioneered the graces of civilized refinements into these uncivilized regions.
This Cantonment, which is beautifully situated on the west bank of the Missouri River, and six hundred miles above its mouth, was constructed some years since by General Leavenworth, from whom it has taken its name. Its location is very beautiful, and so is the country around it. It is the con-centration point of a number of hostile tribes in the vicinity, and has its influence in restraining their warlike propensities.
There is generally a regiment of men stationed here, for the purpose of holding the Indians in check, and of preserving the peace amongst the hostile tribes. I shall visit several tribes in this vicinity, and most assuredly give you some further account of them, as fast as I get it.
Since the date of my last epistles, I succeeded in descending the river to this place, in my little canoe, with my two men at the oars, and myself at the helm, steering its course the whole way amongst snags and sand-bars.
Before I give further account of this downward voyage, however, I must recur back for a few moments, to the Teton River, from whence I started, and from whence my last epistles were written, to record a few more incidents which I then overlooked in my note-book. Whilst painting my portraits amongst the Sioux, as I have described, I got the portrait of a noble Shienne chief, by the name of Nee-hee-o-ee-woo-tis, the wolf on the hill. The chief of a party of that tribe, on a friendly visit to the Sioux, and the portrait also of a woman, Tis-see-woo-na-tis (she who bathes her knees). The Shiennes are a small tribe of about 3000 in numbers, living neighbors to the Sioux, on the west of them, and between the Black Hills and the Rocky Mountains. There is no finer race of men than these in North America, and none superior in stature, excepting the Osages; scarcely a man in the tribe, full grown, who is less than six feet in height. The Shiennes are undoubtedly the richest in horses of any tribe on the Continent, living in a country as they do, where the greatest herds of wild horses are grazing on the prairies, which they catch in great numbers and vend to the Sioux, Mandans and other tribes, as well as to the Fur Traders.
These people are the most desperate set of horsemen, and warriors also, having carried on almost unceasing wars with the Pawnees and Blackfeet, "time out of mind." The chief represented in the picture was clothed in a handsome dress of deer skins, very neatly garnished with broad bands of porcupine quill-work down the sleeves of his shirt and his leggings, and all the way fringed with scalp-locks. His hair was very profuse, and flowing over his shoulders; and in his hand he held a beautiful Sioux pipe, which had just been presented to him by Mr. McKenzie, the Trader. This was one of the finest looking and most dignified men that I have met in the Indian country; and from the account given of him by the Traders a man of honour and strictest integrity. The woman was comely, and beautifully dressed; her dress of the mountain-sheep skins, tastefully ornamented with quills and beads, and her hair plaited in large braids, that hung down on her breast.
After I had painted these and many more, whom I have not time at present to name, I painted the portrait of a celebrated warrior of the Sioux, by the name of Mah-to-chee-ga (the little bear), who was unfortunately slain in a few moments after the picture was done, by one of his own tribe; and which was very near costing me my life for having painted a side view of his face, leaving one-half of it out of the picture, which had been the cause of the affray; and supposed by the whole tribe to have been intentionally left out by me, as "good for nothing." This was the last picture that I painted amongst the Sioux, and the last, undoubtedly, that I ever shall paint in that place. So tremendous and so alarming was the excitement about it, that my brushes were instantly put away, and I embarked the next day on the steamer for the sources of the Missouri, and was glad to get under weigh.
The man who slew this noble warrior was a troublesome fellow of the same tribe, by the name of Shon-ka (the dog). A "hue and cry" has been on his track for several months; and my life having been repeatedly threatened during my absence up the river, I shall defer telling the whole of this most extraordinary affair, until I see that my own scalp is safe, and I am successfully out of the country. A few weeks or months will decide how many are to fall victims to the vengeance of the relatives of this murdered brave; and if I outlive the affair, I shall certainly give some further account of it. (1)
My voyage from the mouth of the Teton River to this place has been the most rugged, yet the most delightful, of my whole Tour. Our canoe was generally landed at night on the point of some projecting barren sand-bar, where we straightened our limbs on our buffalo robes, secure from the annoyance of mosquitos, and out of the walks of Indians and grizzly bears. In addition to the opportunity which this descending Tour has afforded me, of visiting all the tribes of Indians on the river, and leisurely filling my portfolio with the beautiful scenery which its shores presentthe sportsman's fever was roused and satisfied; the swan, ducks, geese, and pelicansthe deer, antelope, elk, and buffaloes, were "stretched" by our rifles; and some times"pull boys! pull! a war party! for your lives pull! or we are gone!"
I often landed my skiff, and mounted the green-carpeted bluffs whose soft grassy tops, invited me to recline, where I was at once lost in contemplation. Soul melting scenery that was about me! A place where the mind could think volumes; but the tongue must be silent that would speak, and the hand palsied that would write. A place where a Divine would confess that he never had fancied Paradisewhere the painter's palette would lose its beautiful tintsthe blood-stirring notes of eloquence would die in their utteranceand even the soft tones of sweet music would scarcely preserve a spark to light the soul again that had passed this sweet delirium. I mean the prairie, whose enameled plains that lie beneath me, in distance soften into sweetness, like an essence; whose thousand velvet covered hills, (surely never formed by chance, but grouped in one of Nature's sportive moods)tossing and leaping down with steep or graceful declivities to the river's edge, as if to grace its pictured shores, and make it "a thing to look upon." I mean the prairie at sun-set; when the green hill-tops are turned into goldand their long shadows of melancholy are thrown over the valleyswhen all the breathing of day are hushed, and nought but the soft notes of the retiring dove can be heard; or the still softer and more plaintive notes of the wolf, who sneaks through these scenes of enchantment, and mournfully howls, as if lonesome, and lost in the too beautiful quiet and stillness about him. I mean this prairie; where Heaven sheds its purest light, and lends its richest tints this round-topp'd bluff, here the foot treads soft, and lightwhose steep sides, and lofty head, rear me to the skies, overlooking yonder pictured vale of beautythis solitary cedar-post, which tells a tale of griefgrief that was keenly felt, and tenderly, but long since softened in the march of time and lost. Oh, sad and tearstarting contemplation! sole tenant of this stately mound, how solitary thy habitation! here Heaven wrested from thee thy ambition, and made thee sleeping monarch of this land of silence.
Stranger! oh, how the mystic web of sympathy links my soul to thee and thy afflictions! I knew thee not, but it was enough; thy tale was told, and I a solitary wanderer through thy land, have stopped to drop familiar tears upon thy grave. Pardon this gush from a stranger's eyes, for they are all that thou canst have in this strange land, where friends and dear relations are not allowed to pluck a flower, and drop a tear to freshen recollections of endearments past.
Stranger! Adieu. With streaming eyes I leave thee again, and thy fairy land, to peaceful solitude. My pencil has faithfully traced thy beautiful habitation; and long shall live in the world, and familiar, the name of "Floyd's Grave."
Readers, pardon this digression. I have seated myself down, not on a prairie, but at my table, by a warm and cheering fire, with my journal before me to cull from it a few pages, for your entertainment; and if there are spots of loveliness and beauty, over which I have passed, and whose images are occasionally beckoning me into digressions, you must forgive me.
Such is the spot I have just named, and some others, on to which I am instantly transferred when I cast my eyes back upon the enameled and beautiful shores of the Upper Missouri; and I am constrained to step aside and give ear to their breathings, when their soft images, and cherished associations, so earnestly prompt me. "Floyd's Grave" is a name given to one of the most lovely and imposing mounds or bluffs on the Missouri River, about twelve hundred miles above St. Louis, from the melancholy fate of Serjeant Floyd, who was of Lewis and Clark's expedition, in 1806; who died on the way, and whose body was taken to this beautiful hill, and buried in its top, where now stands a cedar post, bearing the initials of his name.
I landed my canoe in front of this grass-covered mound, and all hands being fatigued, we encamped a couple of days at its base. I several times ascended it and sat upon his grave, overgrown with grass and the most delicate wild flowers, where I sat and contemplated the solitude and stillness of this tenanted mound; and beheld from its top, the windings infinite of the Missouri, and its thousand hills and domes of green, vanishing into blue in distance, when nought but the soft-breathing winds were heard, to break the stillness and quietude of the scene. Where not the chirping of bird or sound of cricket, nor soaring eagle's scream, were interposed between God and man; nor aught to check man's whole surrender of his soul to his Creator. I could not hunt upon this ground, but I roamed from hill-top to hill-top, and culled wild flowers, and looked into the valley below me, both up the river and down, and contemplated the thousand hills and dales that are now carpeted with green, streaked as they will be, with the plough, and yellow with the harvest sheaf; spotted with lowing kinewith houses and fences, and groups of hamlets and villasand these lovely hill-tops ringing with the giddy din and maze, or secret earnest whispers of lovesick swainsof pristine simplicity and virtuewholesome and well earned contentment and abundanceand again, of wealth and refinementsof idleness and luxuryof vice and ifs deformitiesof fire and sword, and the vengeance of offended Heaven, wreaked in retributive destruction!and peace, and quiet, and loveliness, and silence, dwelling again, over and through these scenes, and blending them into futurity!
Many such scenes there are, and thousands, on the Missouri shores. My canoe has been stopped, and I have clambered up their grassy and flower decked sides; and sighed all alone, as I have carefully traced and fastened them in colours on my canvass.
This voyage in my little canoe, amid the thousand islands and grass covered bluffs that stud the shores of this mighty river, afforded me infinite pleasure, mingled with pains and privations which I never shall wish to forget. Gliding along from day to day, and tiring our eyes on the varying landscapes that were continually opening to our view, my merry voyageurs were continually chanting their cheerful boat songs, and "every now and then," taking up their unerring rifles to bring down the stately elks or antelopes, which were often gazing at us from the shores of the river.
But a few miles from "Floyd's Bluff" we landed our canoe, and spent a day in the vicinity of the "Black Bird's Grave." This is a celebrated point on the Missouri, and a sort of telegraphic place, which all the travellers in these realms, both white and red, are in the habit of visiting: the one to pay respect to the bones of one of their distinguished leaders; and the others, to indulge their eyes on the lovely landscape that spreads out to an almost illimitable extent in every direction about it. This elevated bluff, which may be distinguished for several leagues in distance, has received the name of the "Black Bird's Grave," from the fact, that a famous chief of the O-ma-haws, by the name of the Black Bird, was buried on its top, at his own peculiar request; over whose grave a cedar post was erected by his tribe some thirty years ago, which is still standing. The O-ma-haw village was about sixty miles above this place; and this very noted chief, who had been on a visit to Washington City, in company with the Indian agent, died of the small-pox, near this spot, on his return home. And, whilst dying, enjoined on his warriors who were about him, this singular request, which was literally complied with. He requested them to take his body down the river to this his favourite haunt, and on the pinnacle of this towering bluff; to bury him on the back of his favourite war-horse, which was to be buried alive, under him, from whence he could see, as he said, "the Frenchmen passing up and down the river in their boats." He owned, amongst many horses, a noble white steed that was led to the top of the grass-covered hill; and, with great pomp and ceremony, in presence of the whole nation, and several of the Fur Traders and the Indian agent, he was placed astride of his horse's back, with his bow in his hand, and his shield and quiver slungwith his pipe and his medicine-bagwith his supply of dried meat, and his tobacco-pouch replenished to last him through his journey to the "beautiful hunting grounds of the shades of his fathers"with his flint and steel, and his tinder, to light his pipes by the way. The scalps that he had taken from his enemies' heads, could be trophies for nobody else, and were hung to the bridle of his horsehe was in full dress and fully equipped; and on his head waved, to the last moment, his beautiful head-dress of the war-eagle's plumes. In this plight, and the last funeral honours having been performed by the medicine-men, every warrior of his band painted the palm and fingers of his right hand with vermilion; which was stamped, and perfectly impressed on the milk-white sides of his devoted horse.
This all done, turfs were brought and placed around the feet and legs of the horse, and gradually laid up to its sides; and at last, over the back and head of the unsuspecting animal, and last of all, over the head and even the eagle plumes of its valiant rider, where altogether have smouldered and remained undisturbed to the present day.
This mound which is covered with a green turf, and spotted with wild flowers, with its cedar post in its centre, can easily be seen at the distance of fifteen miles, by the voyageur, and forms for him a familiar and useful land-mark.
Whilst visiting this mound in company with Major Sanford, on our way up the river, I discovered in a hole made in the mound, by a "ground hog" or other animal, the skull of the horse; and by a little pains, also came at the skull of the chief, which I carried to the river side, and secreted till my return in my canoe, when I took it in, and brought with me to this place, where I now have it, with others which I have collected on my route.
There have been some very surprising tales told of this man, which will lender him famous in history, whether they be truth or matters of fiction. Of the many, one of the most current is, that he gained his celebrity and authority by the most diabolical series of murders in his own tribe; by administering arsenic (with which he had been supplied by the Fur Traders) to such of his enemies as he wished to get rid ofand even to others in his tribe whom he was willing to sacrifice, merely to establish his superhuman powers, and the most servile dread of the tribe, from the certainty with which his victims fell around him, precisely at the times he saw fit to predict their death! It has been said that he administered this potent drug, and to them unknown medicine, to many of his friends as well as to foes; and by such an inhuman and unparalleled depravity, succeeded in exercising the most despotic and absolute authority in his tribe, until the time of his death!
This story may be true, and it may not. I cannot contradict it; and I am sure the world will forgive me, if I say, I cannot believe it. If it be true, two things are also true; the one, not much to the credit of the Indian character; and the other, to the everlasting infamy of the Fur Traders. If it be true, it furnishes an instance of Indian depravity that I never have elsewhere heard of in my travels; and carries the most conclusive proof of the incredible enormity of white men's dealings in this country; who, for some sinister purpose must have introduced the poisonous drug into the country, and taught the poor chief how to use it; whilst they were silent accessories to the murders he was committing. This story is said to have been told by the Fur Traders; and although I have not always the highest confidence in their justice to the Indian, yet, I cannot for the honour of my own species believe them to be so depraved and so wicked, nor so weak, as to reveal such iniquities of this chief, if they were true, which must directly implicate themselves as accessories to his most wilful and unprovoked murders.
Such he has been heralded, however, to future ages, as a murdererlike hundreds and thousands of others, as "horse thieves"as "drunkards"as "rogues of the first order," &c. &c.by the historian who catches but a glaring story, (and perhaps fabrication) of their lives, and has no time nor disposition to enquire into and record their long and brilliant list of virtues, which must be lost in the shade of infamy, for want of an historian.
I have learned much of this noble chieftain, and at a proper time shall recount the modes of his civil and military lifehow he exposed his life, and shed his blood in rescuing the victims to horrid torture, and abolished that savage custom in his tribehow he led on and headed his brave warriors, against the Sacs and Foxes; and saved the butchery of his women and childrenhow he received the Indian agent, and entertained him in his hospitable wigwam, in his villageand how he conducted and acquitted himself on his embassy to the civilized world.
So much I will take pains to say, of a man whom I never saw, because other historians have taken equal pains just to mention his name, and a soli-tary (and doubtful) act of his life, as they have said of hundreds of others, for the purpose of consigning him to infamy.
How much more kind would it have been for the historian, who never saw him, to have enumerated with this, other characteristic actions of his life(for the verdict of the world); or to have allowed, in charity, his bones and his name to have slept in silence, instead of calling them up from the grave, to thrust a dagger through them, and throw them back again.
Book-making now-a-days, is done for money-making; and he who takes the Indian for his theme, and cannot go and see him, finds a poverty in his matter that naturally begets error, by grasping at every little tale that is brought or fabricated by their enemies. Such books are standards, because they are made for white man's reading only; and herald the character of people who never can disprove them. They answer the purpose for which they are written; and the poor Indian who has no redress, stands stigmatized and branded, as a murderous wretch and beast.
If the system of book-making and newspaper printing were in operation
in the Indian country awhile, to herald the iniquities and horrible barbarities of white men in these Western regions, which now are sure to be overlooked; I venture to say, that chapters would soon be printed, which would sicken the reader to his heart, and set up the Indian, a fair and tolerable man.
There is no more beautiful prairie country in the world, than that which is to be seen in this vicinity. In looking back from this bluff, towards the West, there is, to an almost boundless extent, one of the most beautiful scenes imaginable. The surface of the country is gracefully and slightly undulating, like the swells of the retiring ocean after a heavy storm. And everywhere covered with a beautiful green turf, and with occasional patches and clusters of trees. The soil in this region is also rich, and capable of making one of the most beautiful and productive countries in the world.
Ba'tiste and Bogard used their rifles to some effect during the day that we loitered here, and gathered great quantifies of delicious grapes. From this lovely spot we embarked the next morning, and glided through constantly changing scenes of beauty, until we landed our canoe at the base of a beautiful series of grass-covered bluffs, which, like thousands and thousands of others on the banks of this river, are designated by no name, that I know of; and I therefore introduce them as fair specimens of the grassy bluffs of the Missouri.
My canoe was landed at noon, at the base of these picturesque hillsand there rested till the next morning. As soon as we were ashore, I scrambled to their summits, and beheld, even to a line, what the reader has before him in the pictures. I took my easel, and canvass and brushes, to the top of the bluff, and painted the two views from the same spot; the one looking up, and the other down the river. The reader, by imagining these hills to be five or six hundred feet high, and every foot of them, as far as they can be discovered in distance, covered with a vivid green turf, whilst the sun is gilding one side, and throwing a cool shadow on the other, will be enabled to form something like an adequate idea of the shores of the Missouri. From this enchanting spot there was nothing to arrest the eye from ranging over its waters for the distance of twenty or thirty miles, where it quietly glides between its barriers, formed of thousands of green and gracefully sloping hills, with its rich and alluvial meadows, and wood-landsand its hundred islands, covered with stately cotton-wood.
In these two views, the reader has a fair account of the general character of the Upper Missouri; and by turning back to what I have already described, he will at once see the process by which this wonderful formation has been produced. In that plate will be seen the manner in which the rains are wearing down the clay-bluffs, cutting gullies or sluices behind them, and leaving them at last to stand out in relief, in these rounded and graceful forms, until in time they get seeded over, and nourish a growth of green grass on their sides, which forms a turf, and pro-tects their surface, preserving them for centuries, in the forms that are here seen. The tops of the highest of these bluffs rise nearly up to the summit level of the prairies, which is found as soon as one travels a mile or so from the river, amongst these picturesque groups, and comes out at their top; from whence the country goes off to the East and the West, with an almost perfectly level surface.
These two views were taken about thirty miles above the village of the Puncahs, and five miles above "the Tower;" the name given by the travellers through the country, to a high and remarkable clay bluff, rising to the height of some hundreds of feet from the water, and having in distance, the castellated appearance of a fortification.
My canoe was not unmoored from the shores of this lovely spot for two days, except for the purpose of crossing the river; which I several times did, to ascend and examine the hills on the opposite side. I had Ba'tiste and Bogard with me on the tops of these green carpeted bluffs, and tried in vain to make them see the beauty of scenes that were about us. They dropped asleep, and I strolled and contemplated alone; clambering "up one hill" and sliding or running "down another," with no other living being in sight, save now and then a bristling wolf, which, from my approach, was reluctantly retreating from his shady lairor sneaking behind me and smelling on my track.
Whilst strolling about on the western bank of the river at this place, I found the ancient site of an Indian village, which, from the character of the marks, I am sure was once the residence of the Mandans. I said in a former Letter, when speaking of the Mandans, that within the recollection of some of their oldest men, they lived some sixty or eighty miles down the river from the place of their present. residence; and that they then lived in nine villages. On my way down, I became fully convinced of the fact; having landed my canoe, and examined the ground where the foundation of every wigwam can yet be distinctly seen. At that time, they must have been much more numerous than at present, from the many marks they have left, as well as from their own representations.
The Mandans have a peculiar way of building their wigwams, by digging down a couple of feet in the earth; and there fixing the ends of the poles which form the walls of their houses. There are other marks, such as their cachesand also their mode of depositing their dead on scaffoldsand of preserving the skulls in circles on the prairies; which peculiar customs I have before described, and most of which are distinctly to be recognized in each of these places, as well as in several similar remains which I have met with on the banks of the river, between here and the Mandans; which fully convince me, that they have formerly occupied the lower parts of the Missouri, and have gradually made their way quite through the heart of the great Sioux country; and haying been well fortified in all their locations, as in their present one, by a regular stockade and ditch; they have been able successfully to resist the continual assaults of the Sioux, that numerous tribe, who have been, and still are, endeavouring to effect their entire destruction. I have examined, at least fifteen or twenty of their ancient locations on the banks of this river, and can easily discover the regular differences in the ages of these antiquities; and around them all I have found numerous bits of their broken pottery, corresponding with that which they are now manufacturing in great abundance; and which is certainly made by no other tribe in these regions. These evidences, and others which shall not take the time to mention in this place, go a great way in my mind towards strengthening the possibility of their having moved from the Ohio river, and of their being a remnant of the followers of Madoc. I have much further to trace them yet, however, and shall certainly have more to say on so interesting a subject in future.
Almost every mile I have advanced on the banks of this river, I have met evidences and marks of Indians in some form or other; and they have generally been those of the Sioux, who occupy and own the greater part of this immense region of country. In the latter part of my voyage, however, and of which I have been speaking in the former part of this Letter, I met the ancient sites of the O-ma-ha and Ot-to towns, which are easily detected when they are met. In an illustration is seen the usual mode of the Omahas, of depositing their dead in the crotches and on the branches of trees, enveloped in skins, and never without a wooden dish banging by the head of the corpse; probably for the purpose of enabling it to dip up water to quench its thirst on the long and tedious journey, which they generally expect to enter on after death. These corpses are so frequent along the banks of the river, that in some places a dozen or more of them may be seen at one view.
The illustration also shows the customs of the Sioux, which are found in endless numbers on the river; and in fact, through every part of this country. The wigwams of these people are only moveable tents, and leave but a temporary mark to be discovered. Their burials, however, are peculiar and lasting remains, which can be long detected. They often deposit their dead on trees, and on scaffolds; but more generally bury in the tops of bluffs, or near their villages; when they often split out staves and drive in the ground around the grave, to protect it from the trespass of dogs or wild animals.
Finally, the illustration shows the character of Mandan remains, that are met with in numerous places on the river. Their mode of resting their dead upon scaffolds is not so peculiar to them as positively to distinguish them from Sioux, who sometimes bury in the same way; but the excavations for their earth-covered wigwams, which I have said are two feet deep in the ground, with the ends of the decayed timbers remaining in them, are peculiar and conclusive evidence of their being of Mandan construction; and the custom of leaving the skulls bleached upon the ground in circles (as I have formerly described), instead of burying them as the other tribes do, forms also a strong evidence of the fact that they are Mandan remains.
In most of these sites of their ancient towns, however, I have been unable to find about their burial places, these characteristic deposits of the skulls; from which I conclude, that whenever they deliberately moved to a different region, they buried the skulls out of respect to the dead. I found, just back of one of these sites of their ancient towns, however, and at least 500 miles below where they now live, the same arrangement of skulls as that I described previously. They had laid so long, however, exposed to the weather, that they were reduced almost to a powder, except the teeth, which mostly seemed polished and sound as ever. It seems that no human hands had dared to meddle with the dead; and that even their enemies had respected them; for every one, and there were at least two hundred in one circle, had mouldered to chalk, in its exact relative position, as they had been placed in a circle. In this case, I am of opinion that the village was besieged by the Sioux, and entirely destroyed; or that the Mandans were driven off without the power to stop and bury the bones of their dead.
Belle Vue is a lovely scene on the West bank of the river, about nine miles above the mouth of the Platte, and is the agency of Major Dougherty, one of the oldest and most effective agents on our frontiers. This spot is, as I said, lovely in itself; but doubly so to the eye of the weather-beaten voyageur from the sources of the Missouri, who steers his canoe in, to the shore, as I did, and soon finds himself a welcome guest at the comfortable board of the Major, with a table again to eat fromand that (not "groaning," but) standing under the comfortable weight of meat and vegetable luxuries, products of the labour of cultivating man. It was a pleasure to see again, in this great wilderness, a civilized habitation; and still more pleasant to find it surrounded with corn-fields, and potatoes, with numerous fruit-trees, bending under the weight of their fruitwith pigs and poultry, and kine; and what was best of all, to see the kind and benevolent face, that never looked anything but welcome to the half-starved guests, who throw themselves upon him from the North, from the South, the East, or the West.
At this place I was in the country of the Pawnees, a numerous tribe, whose villages are on the Platte river, and of whom I shall say more anon. Major Dougherty has been for many years the agent for this hostile tribe; and by his familiar knowledge of the Indian character, and his strict honesty and integrity, he has been able to effect a friendly intercourse with them, and also to attract the applause and highest confidence of the world, as well as of the authorities who sent him there.
An hundred miles above this, I passed a curious feature called the "Square Hills." I landed my canoe, and went ashore, and to their tops, to examine them. Though they appeared to be near the river, I found it half a day's journey to travel to and from them; they being several miles from the river. On ascending them I found them to be two or three hundred feet high, and rising on their sides at an angle of 45 degrees; and on their tops, in some places, for half a mile in length, perfectly level, with a green turf, and corresponding exactly with the tabular hills spoken of above the Mandans. I therein said, that I should visit these hills on my way down the river; and I am fully convinced, from close examination, that they are a part of the same original superstratum, which I therein described, though seven or eight hundred miles separatedfrom them. They agree exactly in character, and also in the materials of which they are composed; and I believe, that some unaccountable gorge of waters has swept away the intervening earth, leaving these solitary and isolated, though incontrovertible evidences, that the summit level of all this, great valley has at one time been where the level surface of these hills now is, two or three hundred feet above what is now generally denominated the summit level.
The mouth of the Platte, is a beautiful scene, and no doubt will be the site of a large and flourishing town, soon after Indian titles shall have been extinguished to the lands in these regions, which will be done within a very few years. The Platte is a long and powerful stream, pouring in from the Rocky Mountains and joining with the Missouri at this place.
In this voyage, as in all others that I have performed, I kept my journal, but I have not room, it will be seen, to insert more than an occasional extract from it for my present purpose. In this voyage, Ba'tiste and Bogard were my constant companions; and we all had our rifles, and used them often. We often went ashore amongst the herds of buffaloes, and were obliged to do so for our daily food. We lived the whole way on buffaloes' flesh and venisonwe had no bread; but laid in a good stock of coffee and sugar. These, however, from an unforeseen accident availed us but little; as on the second or third day of our voyage, after we had taken our coffee on the shore, and Ba'tiste and Bogard had gone in pursuit of a herd of buffaloes, I took it in my head to have an extra very fine dish of coffee to myself, as the fire was fine. For this purpose, I added more coffee-grounds to the pot, and placed it on the fire, which I sat watching, when I saw a fine buffalo cow wending her way leisurely over the hills, but a little distance from me, for whom I started at once, with my rifle trailed in my band; and after creeping, and running, and heading, and all that, for half an hour, without getting a shot at her; I came back to the encampment, where I found my two men with meat enough, but in the most uncontrollable rage, for my coffee had all boiled out, and the coffee-pot was melted to pieces!
This was truly a deplorable accident, and one that could in no effectual way be remedied. We afterwards botched up a mess or two of it in our frying-pan, but to little purpose, and then abandoned it to Bogard alone, who thank fully received the dry coffee-grounds and sugar, at his meals, which he soon entirely demolished.
We met immense numbers of buffaloes in the early part of our voyage and used to land our canoe almost every hour in the day; and often times all together approach the unsuspecting herds, through some deep and hidden ravine within a few rods of them, and at the word, "pull trigger," each of us bring down our victim.
In one instance, near the mouth of White River, we met the most immense herd crossing the Missouri Riverand from an imprudence got our boat into imminent danger amongst them, from which we were highly delighted to make our escape. It was in the midst of the "running season," and we had heard the "roaring" (as it is called) of the herd, when we were several miles from them. When we came in sight, we were actually terrified at the immense numbers that were streaming down the green hills on one side of the river, and galloping up and over the bluffs on the other. The river was filled, and in parts blackened, with their heads and horns, as they were swimming about, following up their objects, and making desperate battle whilst they were swimming.
I deemed it imprudent for our canoe to be dodging amongst them, and ran it ashore for a few hours, where we laid, waiting for the opportunity of seeing the river clear; but we waited in vain. Their numbers, however, got some-what diminished at last, and we pushed off, and successfully made our way amongst them. From the immense numbers that had passed the river at that place, they had torn down the prairie bank of fifteen feet in height, so as to form a sort of road or landing-place, where they all in succession clambered up. Many in their turmoil had been wafted below this landing, and unable to regain it against the swiftness of the current, had fastened themselves along in crowds, hugging close to the high bank under which they were standing. As we were drifting by these, and supposing ourselves out of danger, I drew up my rifle and shot one of them in the head, which tumbled into the water, and brought with him a hundred others, which plunged in, and in a moment were swimming about our canoe, and placing it in great danger. No attack was made upon us, and in the confusion the poor beasts knew not, perhaps, the enemy that was amongst them; but we were liable to be sunk by them, as they were furiously hooking and climbing on to each other. I rose in my canoe, and by my gestures and hallooing, kept them from coming in contact with us, until we were out of their reach.
This was one of the instances that I formerly spoke of, where thousands and tens of thousands of these animals congregate in the running season, and move about from East and West, or wherever accident or circumstances may lead them. In this grand crusade, no one can know the numbers that may have made the ford within a few days; nor in their blinded fury in such scenes, would feeble man be much respected.
During the remainder of that day we paddled onward, and passed many of their carcasses floating on the current, or lodged on the heads of islands and sand-bars. And, in the vicinity of, and not far below the grand tur-moil, we passed several that were mired in the quicksand near the shores; some were standing fast and half immersed; whilst others were nearly out of sight, and gasping for the last breath; others were standing with all legs fast, and one half of their bodies above the water, and their heads sunk under it, where they had evidently remained several days; and flocks of ravens and crows were covering their backs, and picking the flesh from their
So much of the Upper Missouri and its modes, at present; though I have much more in store for some future occasion.
Fort Leavenworth, which is on the Lower Missouri, being below the mouth of the Platte, is the nucleus of another neighbourhood of Indians, amongst whom I am to commence my labours, and of whom I shall soon be enabled to give some account. So, for the present, Adieu.
(1) Some months after writing the above, and after I had arrived safe in St. Louis, the news reached there that the Dog had been overtaken and killed, and a brother of his also, and the affair thus settled. The portraits are in Vol. II., and the story there told.